They waited 650 days. 650 painful, exhausting days. 650 days of grueling work and tireless effort. 650 days since the most horrifying loss in Super Bowl history.
After 650 days, the Seattle Seahawks can take solace in the redemption that they achieved against the New England Patriots. In one of the most exciting football matches you’ll ever see, the Seahawks toppled the Patriots by a score of 31-24 after an unbelievable goal-line stand. Russell Wilson played out of his mind, carving up the New England secondary with his old acquaintance (Doug Baldwin) and shiny new Swiss army knife (C.J. Prosise).
While Russell shined under the bright lights of Gillette, the biggest takeaway of the game for me was based off of a storyline that I think a lot of people discounted heading into the matchup: Kam Chancellor’s return.
Kam was unbelievable on Sunday night. It was reminiscent of 2014, when he missed several games with an injury and then returned in peak form, wrecking offenses all throughout the trek to the Super Bowl.
On that run to the championship game, Kam sealed the Divisional Playoff matchup against the Carolina Panthers with a late pick-six delivered against Cam Newton. On the replay, color commentator John Lynch, a former All Pro safety himself, stated: “I don’t think anybody in this league is better at the safety position [than Chancellor], with all due respect to his safety mate Earl Thomas. He’s a game-changing player for this defense.”
I’m not sure that I would call Kam the best safety in the league. I think that title has been held by Thomas for the past half-decade and it won’t change soon. But the combination of Lynch’s comments and Chancellor’s play against the Patriots made me think and led me to a different conclusion: when he is healthy, Kam is the most dominant safety in the NFL, and I don’t know if it’s close.
A lot of what Earl Thomas does is preventative. His control of the deep middle third is unparalleled and his range is generally what prevents long completions between the hashes against Seattle. Kam has a more visually tangible impact. Earl is the best safety in the league at preventing big plays. Kam is the best safety in the league at wrecking games for opposing offenses.
Since the NFL is a “what have you done for me recently” league, let’s look at Chancellor’s play against the Patriots.
The Seahawks hadn’t been playing up to their standards against the run the past few weeks and most (including myself) downplayed Chancellor’s impact in that phase. He reminded us on Sunday night why he is such a weapon against any opponent’s ground game.
On this play, Chancellor is in man coverage on Rob Gronkowski. He immediately diagnoses the play as a run and fills the hole cleared by New England blockers, making a sure tackle and preventing a longer gain. His ability to consistently take good angles and tackle well are often taken for granted.
While he is known for delivering huge hits, Kam also has a ridiculous knack for stripping the ball out of ball carriers’ hands. When he knows that he has the tackle secured, he attempts to hold the player off of the ground while getting his hand in to rip the pigskin away. It happened twice against the Patriots:
After allowing a short reception to Gronkowski, Chancellor trails as Earl Thomas flies in to flip the massive tight end. Kam gets his hand under Gronk’s right arm while he is still in the air and rips the ball out. Unfortunately, Gronkowski’s elbow is ruled down, reversing the turnover.
Fortunately for Seattle, it wasn’t a one-time occurrence.
Ball don’t lie, I guess. A very similar play caused Julian Edelman to fumble away the ball in the fourth quarter, leading to a Seahawks touchdown on the ensuing drive.
These sorts of plays can be incidental, but when you’re consistently making them (see Kam’s forced fumble against the Vikings in the playoffs that led to the game-winning field goal), the sample size outweighs the flukiness.
Let us not forget Chancellor’s coverage ability. This play, when matched up yet again on Gronkowski, is an indicator of Kam’s supreme athleticism and instincts:
Gronk is set in-line before releasing up field. His innate feel for route-running leads to eventually gaining inside position on Kam, who is spun around mid-route. After the rotation is complete, Chancellor fluidly flips his hips, recognizes that the football is coming in hot, dives, and bats the pass away. Earl Thomas quietly adds the hardest hit that Gronkowski has ever experienced.
Corners obviously can’t match up on Gronk, as was apparent on his reception over DeShawn Shead in the final seconds of the game. Kam’s unique physicality and athleticism were on full display in coverage against New England against the game’s most unstoppable offensive weapon.
Kam’s presence was felt most prominently in the waning moments of the contest, immediately after Gronkowski’s impressive deep reception. After a failed quarterback sneak put the Patriots right on the goal line, LeGarrette Blount received the handoff and was met by a fully laid out Chancellor:
Blount, who is an absolute battering ram, dives over the scrum of players on the left side of the line. Kam flies off of the right edge and Supermans into Blount’s legs, wrapping them up and stifling his forward momentum. If Chancellor does not arrive at that exact moment, there is little in the way to prevent a touchdown. Cliff Avril, the only other defender in close proximity, is fully engaged with a lineman and unable to assist on the play. Kam single-handedly prevents a touchdown on this play.
The following snap led to a fumble by Brady on an attempted sneak, spotting the ball at the two-yard line. Despite Seattle’s love for the 12th man, it came back to bite them in their tail feathers, as a penalty cancelled out the yardage lost by the Patriots. Bringing up 4th and goal on the one-yard line, there were a couple of possible play calls – a fade to Gronkowski or a run up the gut by either Brady or Blount. New England went all in on Gronk, who was matched up one-on-one with Kam.
Gronkowski plows into Kam in the middle of his fade route, engaging contact. Chancellor isn’t about to be bodied by the large man running at him and sustains the contact. The physicality that Kam showcases throws off Gronkowski’s route, forcing an incompletion and a victory. A sweet ass victory, I might add.
Plays are to be had on Chancellor. Brady completed a few balls on him, although nothing was seriously damaging. Like I said, he’s not the best safety in the league.
He is, though, hands down the most dominant player at his position in the league and every facet of his game wrecked the Patriots’ chances of victory throughout the 60 minutes of play on Sunday. He came through time and time again, taking points off of the board for New England and preserving Seattle’s chances at victory. Nobody in the league at the safety position can have as obvious or pronounced an impact as Chancellor.
We are watching peak Kamtrak right now and Bam Bam’s boom train doesn’t show any signs of slowing down.